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WesternSFA
Sustenance
A Novel of the Count Saint Germain
by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
TOR Books, $29.99, 480pp
Publication Date: December 2, 2014
This is set in a fascinating time.

This time, Yarbro has the Count Saint Germain deal with HUAC, the beginnings of the FBI and the CIA (and their intense rivalry,) The Red Scare and the relentless hunting down of Commies—especially amongst the intelligentsia and college professors. The years covered are late 1949 to late 1951.

This is mostly set in Paris with a Coven, as they named themselves, of ex-patriots (ex-pat,) almost all of whom were professors at various American colleges hounded out by their supposed Commie connections or radical teachings. It was a time rife with paranoia, spying, wire-tapping and moles.

Saint German gets involved with the group of ex-pats through his Eclipse Publishing house as he decides to publish the works of several of these exiled professors.

Charis Treat is an academic/medievalist who is living in Paris on a shoe string estranged from her husband and two children in New Orleans. She is the first one to seek out Saint Germain’s publishing house. Through her, Saint Germain meets the rest of the ex-pats.

The story crosses the Atlantic back and forth as Yarbro follows the machinations of a couple of mid- to high-level CIA agents in their pursuit of elusive American Commies, especially the ex-pats.

Lydell Broadstreet has created the fictional pursuit of a man known only as Baxter whom Broadstreet consistently tells his boss Channing he’s on the hunt for because he has connections to other people under scrutiny. He could be a key player (Channing’s focus is specifically on the ex-pats in Paris.)

We spend a great deal of time listening to Broadstreet manipulate data and have clandestine lunch engagements outside of Baltimore then reporting to Channing that Baxter wouldn’t show at a rendezvous. Broadstreet writes elaborate fictions for this made-up squealer to justify Broadstreet’s relentless pursuit.

But Baxter is fictional. So for me there is no there - there.

I really found the long discussions and the deep level of thinking and energy Broadstreet put into creating this Baxter boring. It was to no purpose. In the end Broadstreet gets reassigned to Jakarta—an obvious demotion. To what end? He does finally muddle in Saint Germain’s affairs with disastrous results. But at that point, it felt a bit too contrived to me.

Saint Germain’s affair with Charis goes as far as her getting close to deciding to join him in his eternal life---but a tragedy prevents this from occurring.

But in the end, Charis is only mildly compelling. She and Saint Germain have some interesting talks about a medieval convent—but mostly she is constantly fidgety, on edge and unhappy. She is rootless—as one would be in such a situation—but her rootlessness doesn’t allow for much of anything profound from her. It’s all café and bedroom talk.

I only felt a mild concern about her situation. Yarbro brings up her sorrow at being a great distance from her children one of whom has polio. But then, we hear little more about them except a brief mention at the end.

For me, sadly, the most disappointing aspect of this novel is that Saint Germain is mostly reactive. He does make things easier for Charis as is his wont with the heroine of each novel. He helps her friends. He waxes philosophical on occasion.  We get some interesting, as always, views of how things were compared to how they are now.

But he really doesn’t do much except move things around.

As I said; the setting was great a time ripe with danger and bad guys and victims. And there are some real dangers in this tale.

Yarbro is an excellent intelligent wordsmith—she always uses words I have to look up.

I love Saint Germain. But this novel and the one before it “Night Pilgrims” are anemic and disappointing. ~~ Sue Martin

For other novels by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro click here

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